practical advice for incarnational ministry — part moja

Think this through:  You’re a non-Christian seeking something more in life.  Would you rather go to a Sunday “worship service” or get to know the guy at work who seems to experience a deeper joy in living?

We all recognize how uncomfortable it must be for “outsiders” to come into our assemblies.  And we respond by making these assemblies less threatening and more welcoming. But is the answer really better music, more casual dress, and visitor parking? I believe the answer is living Christ into our communities, rather than asking our communities to come to us.

Yesterday I wrote about some disappointing tendencies in American churches.  And God has convicted me lately concerning my criticisms of modern-day Christianity.  I don’t feel called to stop evaluating our current methodologies.  But if I’m willing to complain about the prevailing approaches in ministry, I ought to be more willing to suggest practical measures for overcoming these deficiencies.

I objected yesterday to attractional forms of ministry and an unhealthy fixation on the individual. In this post and the next, I intend to offer some practical suggestions concerning incarnational ministry and its implementation. I’ll address individualism in a later post.  [For definitions and further explanation of incarnational versus attractional forms of ministry, see this post and the series attached to it.]

If we intend to minister incarnationally — to actually be Christ in our communities — there are a few critical issues we need to address.

1.  It’s crucial that we be obedient to what we read in the Bible. We need to start reading the Bible for obedience, rather than knowledge.  Our spiritual IQs are far too high to look so little like Christ.  Here are some practical ideas:

  • Focus on shorter passages of scripture.
  • Think about the plain and simple meaning of the text.
  • Before and after each Bible reading, ask God how you should be obedient.
  • Be specific.  Make a concrete goal that can be achieved.
  • Write it down.
  • Share with someone else how you intend to be obedient to God that day or week.
  • Try a 3-column, inductive Bible study.
  • I think you’ll find greater joy in this type of Bible study, and you’ll actually experience a life change — something not precipitated by most of our studies.  Others will notice this transformation as well; often your obedience will lead you to minister to them, and always you will look more like Christ than you did before.
  • I think you’ll also find it easier to share with others what God is teaching you, when what you’re learning isn’t theology and doctrine, but Christlikeness.

2.  We should think less about inviting others to “church,” and more about inviting them to Christ. We need to de-emphasize our own congregations and stress life in the kingdom.  Let’s stop concerning ourselves with attendance and “church growth,” and desire for others to experience true life and joy.  Practical ideas:

  • Don’t have as your end goal an invitation to church.  Have as your end goal this acquaintance of yours experiencing Jesus.  This is best done by treating them as Jesus would.
  • You are every bit as capable as the minister or pastor to share your faith with others — maybe more so, in that you can do so without being accused of being paid for as much.
  • Invite others into your life, not into a church building or a program.  Ask them if they’d like to come over for dinner… or get a cup of coffee.  Introduce them to other disciples who exhibit kingdom life.
  • Better yet, find ways to intersect with their lives… on their turf.  They have a favorite taco stand?  Ask if they’d introduce you to it.  You both like soccer?  Go to a match.  One of our goals is to stop asking others to leave their culture in order to meet Christ.  Let Christ penetrate their natural community.  And, as the body of Christ, this is our responsibility.
  • Don’t start conversations about your preacher’s ability to teach or your church’s great music service.  Talk about what God is teaching you and the impact it has on your life.

Tomorrow, part mbili (2).


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23 Comments

Filed under incarnation, mission, practical advice

23 responses to “practical advice for incarnational ministry — part moja

  1. stefanie

    we never got invited

  2. Christine

    Brett, I have to jump in here. I think it’s great that you are offering practical guidance (who’s really doing that nowadays?) and I agree wholeheartedly with point #1, it’s about living the life, not just believing the doctrine… but (you knew that was coming, huh?), are you sure that simplyfying Scripture is the way to go? In particular, I’m thinking about sub-bullets 1 & 2. Shorter passages mean less context, and “plain and simple meaning” I think is a misleading phrase; there is generally nothing plain or simple about Scripture. It is mean to challenge the way we think, to uproot our preconceived notions, it is meant to jar our brains. If we try to make it simple, we might miss the message.

    Obedient is important, but the idea of exalting obedience over knowledge seem foolhardy. How can we obey if we do not first know what we are called to do?

    I find that my in-depth Bible study has been just as useful (if not more so) in calling me to obedience and Christlikeness, because in talking Scripture as a whole, it is easier to see the clear themes, the things that are most important, what love and Christlikeness look like. I would hate to lose that by focusing on isolated passages, which could warp our vision of what Christlikeness looks like.

    In-depth study might not always be necessary, maybe it isn’t for everyone. But certainly it isn’t antithetical to obedience and developing a Christ-like approach to life. Surely knowledge, with the right heart, will lead to obedience just as well or better. Don’t you agree?

    • christine, you bring up some good points. i didn’t mean to throw out knowledge completely. we certainly have to know in order to be obedient. and i certainly believe context is important — but focusing on shorter passages of scripture doesn’t mean we’re not reading outside those passages for context.

      however, i think i disagree completely about this statement: “there is generally nothing plain or simple about Scripture.” the bulk of scripture seems pretty straightforward to me. our deal isn’t that we don’t understand what the bible says; it’s that we’re not willing to do it. it’s easy to understand that we should love one another, and that we shouldn’t love money. we all understand passages about helping orphans and being content in any situation.

      i’ll exalt obedience over knowledge any day. it seems to me Jesus would do the same (john 14 and elsewhere).

      adam and eve were given just a few rules in the garden and were asked for obedience. instead they chose to eat of the tree of knowledge. i think the two have been in conflict ever since…

      as for your last paragraph, you’re right that i don’t believe knowledge and obedience are incompatible. but i see where bible studies focused on knowledge have gotten us; i mean most Christians where I grew up and went to school (me included) study the bible in a community at least 3-4 times a week — and have done so for their entire lives (plus whatever they’ve done in their private study times). yet they don’t necessarily look any more like Christ. i don’t think the answer is to throw out knowledge, but i think definitely we should start focusing on obedience.

      • Christine

        Brett, as usual, we probably sound different and come at things from different perspectives, but mean fairly similar things in the end. Nothing wrong with exalting obedience over worldly knowledge, or knowledge for knowledge sake. It’s the “renewing of our minds” that I think should be the focus.

        I agree that some parts are fairly clear directives, such as “feed the hungry”, and that we just don’t do it. A big problem. Other things, like what it means in practice to turn the other cheek on the one hand, and stand up for the oppressed on the other. To love our enemies and bless those who curse us. In the day to day, these things are challenging to translate into our own context. (Which isn’t even getting into the bizarre parables of Jesus on what the Kindgom looks like – mustard seeds gowing into oak trees??? It’s meant to strike us as bizarre, to shake our minsets – as is the idea that hate is no better than murder.)

        There is something marvelous in understanding how Jesus loved people, how Jesus loves us, which gives us the capacity to obey when it would otherwise be too difficult.

        • David Robinson

          Christine. I love the mustard parable. A lot of us have missed it because we don’t understand agriculture in Israel. I just learned this a few months ago. I was always confused by this text.

          The mustard seed is more like a weed. It grows large by multiplication, not grandeur, like Kudzu in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Jesus was saying that the kingdom will spread through the lowly and unassuming. Kind of makes a good point. Jesus purposefully didn’t choose a Cedar of Lebanon or mighty oak.

          • Christine

            But isn’t the point of the parable to compare the Kingdom of God to a weed (which no one would plant) that once panted grows into a tree that gives shade (which is could never possibly do)?

      • Christine

        Just to follow-up on that idea, I think that obedience for obedience sake is worthless. That’s like living by the law. It’s our faith in Jesus, our gratitude at the forgiveness of our sins, and our love for Him, the putting of God first in our lives that will bring obedience. It’s a heart issue. And understanding God’s vast mercy for us seems key here.

        Then, when we see how much God loves other people, this God we love and want to serve so much, how could we do anything but love them.

        So many times, I see Christians doing terrible things and calling it love. If it is just “plain and simple”, that doesn’t seem to keep a lot of us from just not getting it. Sometimes trying to obey without understanding love can be disasterous.

  3. i suppose i’m leaving a lot of room in these obedience-based bible studies for the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts and prompt us as to how we should be obedient. i’m not so naive to believe we’ll all interpret scripture the same way. but i do believe we could all become more like Christ — making perfect interpretation less important.

    right now it feels like we don’t trust the Spirit. and we attempt to make up for it by over-examining scripture and piling on theology and doctrine and intelligence.

    • my opinion: those who do terrible things and call it love are some of the very people about whom i’m speaking. they examine scriptures and seek to understand everything perfectly (who’s in and who’s out), though they have no intention of living out the love portions (or that seems to be the case).

    • and my greatest question may be, “how do we convince / encourage those ‘disobedient intellectuals’ to focus more on obedience and less on adding knowledge (and degrees and titles)?”

  4. Christine

    I think perhaps we distrust the Holy Spirit in guiding others more than ourselves. Cases of those who do terrible things in the name of “love” seem earily similar to those who do things because “God told them” even when what they are doing is not supported by Scripture. Scripture is our only check, so to speak, on letting people do or promote whatever it is they think God told them. Not to say that’s how it should be, but if we just trusted people that they knew the voice of the Holy Spirit (which I do understand in different than trusting the Holy Spirit) we could see ourselves in a very bad place.

    I agree that some of those people, doing terrible things in the name of love, are doing so intellectually, justifying what love means. The problem is that those teachings are so pervasive, so influencial, that good meaning people now believe that is what they should do. Without true knowledge of Scripture to counteract what they’ve been taught, obedience would just be a replacation of those mitakes. This, of course, is less problematic in a mission field where people are learning about the Bible for the first time, than those who grew up in the church and learned certain things which must now be unlearned.

    For those who already know much and apply little, I doubt there are any Bible studies that will make the difference. I mean, everything will be more or less familiar and it hasn’t caused a change yet. I’ve heard that actually going out and doind the work can really touch your heart, can give you a true passion for helping people. And for a lot of people I think this is true. For those who know and don’t do, perhaps getting people on board to actually go feed the poor, even just once, would help more than another way to do Bible study.

    • you’re right, christine. i believe we should be very wary of those who claim the Spirit has led them to something that is contrary to what the Bible teachers. i personally believe there are lots of ways to hear from God — but far and away, the easiest and most clear way to hear from God is through scripture.

      “The problem is that those teachings are so pervasive, so influential, that good meaning people now believe that is what they should do.”

      christine, this is exactly why i want us to study the bible more for obedience.

      • Christine

        I guess that’s exactly the problem I see with this approach. If the wrong teaching is so pervasive, then studying not to first get right teaching but to jump straight to obedience will mean people striving in their own strength to do all the wrong things.

        • i guess my argument is that the reason the wrong teaching is so pervasive is because people quit interpreting scripture in community for obedience. they stopped holding one another accountable to what the Bible plainly teaches. instead they started sitting back and listening to “experts” who were/are ungodly men but offer knowledge and intellect (and all kinds of ideas that support their current thinking, lifestyle, or power).

          so, to me, the answer to a mess created by people being spoon-fed “knowledge” cannot be knowledge. from where do they get it? how do they know? so i say start in the Bible and let it teach from itself, and let it build on itself.

          • Christine

            So, I’m hearing that interpreting in community is an essential part of the studying for obedience. That we need to be accountable to each other in what we claim or honestly believe the Bible is calling is us to. That sounds great. I think that works in setting where every doesn’t start out with the same background “knowledge”, have the same biases and lenses, and all think the same way. The more at least initial diversity, the broader the interpretive community, the better.

            I think that interpreting in community, though, does involve knowledge. The Bible teaching from itself is knowledge. I think you are saying that “knowledge” from experts cannot simply be replaced with more knowledge from experts. That we need to take a shift there and be responsible ourselves for what we come to know from scripture. This is still knowledge, just another means of knowledge. And when you say that the Bible teaches, particularly that it builds on itself, I see that as meaning that each Biblical passage it taught through the others, interpreted in light of the others, that our knowledge comes from reading the Bible as a whole, which is what I really think we need to do.

            I just didn’t see this in a 3-column Bible study, where one person, perhaps alone, reads the Bible in an attempt to be obedient to one singular passage of scripture at a time.

          • i agree that interpreting in community involves knowledge. and i agree that knowledge is needed. i just think we’ve swung the pendulum too far the direction of knowledge and need to bring it way back towards obedience.

            also, i don’t use (or advocate others using) only 3-column studies. i generally work through a book, a little every day. and when i get to something that resonates with me, i set aside the next day to do a 3-column study. have you looked at any of my posts on “giving and generosity?” most of those are done in a 3-column format. and i’ve never had any problem gaining knowledge from specific passages of scripture.

  5. David Robinson

    -“1. It’s crucial that we be obedient to what we read in the Bible. We need to start reading the Bible for obedience, rather than knowledge. Our spiritual IQs are far too high to look so little like Christ. Here are some practical ideas:”

    This part of your post reminded me of one of my new favorite quotes:

    “The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

    Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
    Danish Scholar

    I may have already posted that here. I can’t remember.

    • that quote is awesome. thanks, david. i think i’ll probably repost it on the blog soon. maybe i should start reading what intelligent, yet dead, people have written.

  6. Pingback: we’re a bunch of scheming swindlers « aliens and strangers

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